Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Essays on Sweat(s) I: Meat Sweats

I sweat. I sweat copiously. Outside of vigorous physical activity, there seems to be little rhyme or reason as to why I sweat so profusely. Math exams used to trigger it, but thankfully I no longer am subjected to that numerical torture. I have begun to notice, however, some distinctly different types of sweat that are distinct.
The "Meat Sweats" can be explained simply enough. After digesting food, your body needs to burn it off. This process creates heat, which leads to perspiration. This is not a nutritional exploration, as my pedestrian explanation may have conveyed. Instead, this a moistened and gamy analysis of this man's experience with "meat sweats."
It started Thursday evening. I prepared a hearty meal of corned beef hash and eggs. It pains to me admit that the corn beef hash was not made from scratch, but instead came from a can. In essence, I found myself cooking human dog food. I cooked the meat and adorned it with two eggs, over-easy. The dish, heavily garnished with pepper, tasted well enough. However, half-way through the meal I noticed salty polyps blossoming on my face and chest. I felt very Cro-magnon as I stooped over my meat and shoveling it greedily into my face.
The meat sweats are unique in that they are noticeably warm. Your body's temperature escalates a few very noticeable degrees. The meat sweats feel like bathing in bathtub filled with tepid beef broth. One feels unsettled and gross. I remember sitting in my favorite blue chair--the Thinking Chair--squirming uneasily in the warm wake of the my meaty meal. My stomach hung heavily over the waistband of my trousers and felt like a gym bag filled with bags of instant concrete. Pain was not present, but my limbs jangled with subtle, culinary discomfort. I sweltered on like this for some time.
I think there is a positive takeaway from that moist and unsettling experience we know as the "meat sweats." It serves, I think, as a sort of culinary symptom of guilt. The meat sweats are a good biological reminder that perhaps we have committed the greasiest of the Seven Deadly Sins: gluttony. So the next time you are squirming in clammy, salty discomfort following the consumption of a 56 ounce steak, remember that moderation is best in all things, especially meat.

Review of Netflix's The Ranch

The newest Netflix original series, The Ranch, debuted on April Fool’s Day. The show brings together Ashton Kutcher, Debra Winger, Danny Masterson, and Sam Elliot for a comedic exploration of blue collar family life in a Colorado ranching community. The story revolves around Colt Bennet (Kutcher), the former star high school quarterback, as he returns home to his family’s ranch to figure out life after a long tenure on the semi-professional football circuit. Bennet returns home to a dry, hardworking, conservative father (Elliot, naturally), a disgruntled older brother (Masterson), and a bar tending mother (Winger) that moved out of the family house. In short, the series chronicle’s Colt Bennet’s efforts to reintegrate himself into the town and family he so enthusiastically left after high school. Viewers, of course, will experience a few tropes along the way. Firstly, the Bennet ranch is bordering on financial collapse. Secondly, Colt Bennet does try to reconnect with this former high school sweetheart who is now a teacher. Thirdly, rural and ranching shenanigans abound. Finally, stale laugh tracks play chorus to this interesting new venture put forward by Netflix.
            All that aside, The Ranch is pleasant and funny enough. Masterson and Kutcher perform well, playing up their normal traits with western drawls attached. Elliot and Winger add strength to the show, balancing out Masterson’s and Kutcher’s slapstick, roughhouse shenanigans with dry and cutting dialogue. Even though it’s shot in studio, the rural, western setting does offer viewers some reprieve from the bombardment of suburban sitcoms. The liberty allotted to the actors gives their dialogue more punch than cable, but the themes they visit are sitcom favorites: money, sex, love, and family.  


A Long-Winded Letter to the Editor (rejected for publication)

Normally, dear readers, you will find that I avoid writing or posting on anything political. However, in light of some disturbing comments made in my home state recently, I will break this rule. I wrote this on Friday, in a flurry of editorial anger. I submitted this bloated piece to the Louisville Courier Journal, but the editors decided not to publish. Please enjoy.

A Letter Concerning the Disgraceful, Outrageous, and Dangerous Remarks of Gov. Bevin & Lt. Gov. Hampton 

Allow me to begin this letter by stating that I am biased: I am a history doctoral student and have devoted my life to the learning, writing, and teaching of the subject. I am also a Kentuckian. That aside, I find Lieutenant-Governor Jenean Hampton’s recent comments regarding the study of history and the humanities insulting on many levels. Governor Matthew Bevin is not without fault either. To dissect Hampton’s own words: I agree that education is indeed a privilege, however, the beauty of education is that students have the right to explore topics and learn on their own terms. They have the right to develop and espouse their own ideas. Furthermore, I find her remarks regarding the employability of history and humanities majors stunted. Perhaps if our esteemed Lieutenant-Governor would look beyond the name of the major and engage with the skills history majors are taught, then she would not be so quick to write them off. But perhaps that is asking too much. I would hate to burden our esteemed leaders with the cumbersome task of engaging in analytical thought. 
            Perhaps our esteemed leaders can have some lackey—quite possibly a humanities major—read this letter for them and reduce it to a one page, monosyllabic brief so that they, in all their educational brilliance, may understand some of the bigger words used. Among my many concerns, let me say that our leader’s comments also do little to improve the nation’s view of our great Commonwealth. So allow me to thank Governor Bevin and Lieutenant-Governor Hampton for further perpetuating the stereotype that Kentuckians do not care about education.
            I will avoid the oft repeated quote about the repetition of history and instead head straight for the benefits a history major. In studying history you learn more than just the details of change over time. Furthermore, students of history and the humanities learn to critically analyze material and express observations about it through discussion and the written word. In short, it teaches you to process information and produce informed opinions. Assets like critical thinking and communication are the lynch-pins of a humanities education. The business world is beginning to realize that the legions of business majors they have employed are—gasp—unable to do these fundamental tasks. Many of the students we send into the workforce are ill-prepared to perform these basic tasks: reading, thinking, and expressing their opinion in a coherent way.
            But what about jobs? How do history majors contribute? You may take this question up with the three members of the Supreme Court who majored in history, including Chief Justice John Roberts. Furthermore, the remaining justices all earned undergraduate degrees in the Humanities and Social Sciences. To those of you who think that the business world is the only one that matters, allow me to provide the following list of notable business-peoples who all majored in history: Chris Hughes (co-founder of Facebook), Samuel Palmisano (CEO of the IBM corporation), Carly Fiorina (president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard), Howard Stringer (chairman and CEO of Sony), Richard B. Fisher (chairman of Morgan Stanley), and Lee Iacocca (CEO of Chrysler). So, as you can see, history majors do indeed achieve in the ‘real world.’ Especially when you consider the number of U.S. Presidents (Republican and Democrat alike) who studied history prior to taking the oath of office.       
When states and politicians begin to devalue certain academic disciplines they are bastardizing the very concept of education. If students are strong-armed into choosing certain majors then you have stunted their individual and intellectual freedom. Yes, society needs doctors, engineers, and businessmen. More importantly, society needs thinking citizens. History and similar humanities majors teach a set of skills as tangible and valuable as any other. In January Governor Bevin noted that students who study French Literature would not be subsidized like those who study engineering. While it is quite possible that the words ‘French’ and ‘Literature’ intimidate our esteemed governor, I think Bevin should reflect on his own education. Bevin graduated with a BA in East Asian Studies from Washington & Lee University. Funny how Bevin had no issue getting a job with an area studies degree. Furthermore, Bevin obtained this degree while on a partial ROTC scholarship. In short, taxpayers helped Bevin study East Asia.  No one told Bevin that he had to study x, y, or z topics. When taxpayers contribute to the education of students, they must exercise trust that whichever student uses those funds, they will do so in such a way as to contribute to society. No specific major determines how much or how positively any individual will influence society.
It takes all types.
My parting words to Governor Bevin and Lieutenant-Governor Hampton are these: there have always been historians and there will always be historians. We will be here long after your terms have ended. History is the narrative fabric of human existence throughout time. To deny history is to, by extension, deny humanity. So if history does not matter then they do not either. Bevin and Hampton do not exist without history. Without history they do not hold governmental office. In short, there is a history to everything. And maybe one day a historian will decide to write a history involving Bevin and Hampton, who, long dead and gone, will have trusted their legacies to the very people they once condemned.  But if Bevin and Hampton have their way, society will be reduced to a legion of drooling mouth-breathers who will have no clue as to how or who made them this way.

On Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown

I do not usually indulge in television food pornography and therefore had good reason to never watch this CNN program or interact with Mr. Bourdain in anyway. However, as I sat in a local Chinese restaurant last night eating spicy garlic shrimp, I watched the Parts Unknown episode dealing with Libya. What I watched was not, to my pleasant surprise, food pornography. Instead, this program offered something palpably distinct.
Shame on me for judging a program based on its presenter.
Mr. Bourdain's Parts Unknown is equal parts food programming, travel documentary, and cultural observation and criticism. The presenter uses the universality of food and dining culture to explore various cultures across the globe. Mr. Bourdain is intelligent, snarky, and curious, traits that make for, in my opinion, a fantastic television presented. However, the power of the program is that it does not hinge or rely on any one of it's characteristics too heavily. Dining and cooking segments are balanced nicely with Bourdain's often unique adventures. He interacts with locals in a genuine manner, conveying neither complete idiot-tourist or know-it-all. Bourdain is, quite simply, a genuine traveler. Part of this is conveyed in his presence on camera. He does not rely on breaking the fourth wall often, and lets the many interesting characters he encounters speak for themselves.
A note on the narration: Bourdain's cheeky, intelligent narration adds nicely to the program. At no point does one feel as though he is ridiculing any particular person, country, city, or site. His humor, a balance of high-brow-cultural and gritty New York observational, is the final touch to a marvelous program.
For lovers of travel, food, and history, Bourdain's Parts Unkown should leave them informed, salivating, and satisfied.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Greetings All,

Allow me to welcome you this grotesque digital experiment, the Mattress Fire. I am, as noted in the header, your humble narrator. The parameters of this exercise are virtually non-existent. You will find brief postings on History, fiction writing, poor man's journalism, and various other pulpy chunks of commentary. The views presented are--quite obviously--wholly my own and do not reflect on any institution(s) I may be affiliated with. Welcome, once again, to the Mattress Fire.

Andrew J. Avery